On the Right Path

Because I’ve traced the route over and over this past two months, Strava last week awarded me Local Legend status for the .6 mile path I’ve been running most every day at my local park. The dirt trail forms a rough rectangle just inside the wrought-iron fence lining the central area of the park. It’s not a path you would find on an official map of the park but it’s there. It’s always been there, as long as I’ve lived here, worn into the landscape by thousands of daily footsteps from oddballs like me. 

In trying to self-rehab a knee injury, I’ve found that the soft surface is a balm to my damaged tendon or torn meniscus or whatever the hell is going on inside my knee. I’m also getting the benefit of the uneven fall of every footstep on the irregular surface, which is soothing to this repetitive-motion injury caused by the wear and tear of my millions of essentially identical footsteps on asphalt over the years. 

In pursuit of uneven surfaces, I haven’t been running directly on the smooth dirt path. I’ve been running on the grass (or what passes for grass in NYC parks) just beside the path, darting around bushes, surfing over the puddles of spiky round seedpods from the Plane trees, leaping some freaky ratholes by the garbage cans.

Usually I’m alone on the path but once or twice a week I seem to be running it the same time of day as a woman who likes to run it the opposite direction I do. In spite of many passings we’ve yet to acknowledge each other’s presence. She always looks faster and stronger than I feel, which motivates me to keep pushing.

Weirdly, this path just inches away from street and concrete and pedestrians, littered with trash and broken glass, gives me an energizing daily dose of Nature. For all its sameness, the path is endlessly changing. Cold temperatures freeze yesterday’s footprints in the mud and harden the ground; the warming trends of the coming spring turn it back to mush. One day there might be an impressive pile of plastic Fireball shot bottles from an impromptu party the night before. Shoots of stubborn city daffodils are now poking up here and there. And there’s a curious leaf-stuffed nook in the roots at the base of one tree where I’ve seen both a grackle and a black squirrel messing around, making me wonder if one or the other lives there or if they are the usual sort of unlikely Williamsburg roommates.

Once in a while, when I get bored, I turn around and run it the opposite way like my sometime fellow path-jogger. I’m always stunned by how different any route is when I just flip things around like that. The view and vibe are totally new, even if I’ve run it over and over again the other way.